Foreign Affairs

Iran’s New Satellites: The Pasdaran in Space

The Associated Press revealed to the world Tuesday that "according to Tehran, Iran has successfully sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit, as announced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." But while the Iranian President claimed the move was to develop "science for friendship, brotherhood and justice," AP noted this was "a significant step in an ambitious space program that has worried many international observers."

The debate over the Iranian space program is going to look like the cacophony over its nuclear ambitions. Per AP, "Iran has said it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications."

Over the next weeks and months, Iran’s state propaganda machine and their sympathizers in the West will rush to praise the genuine scientific goals of the program while national security experts will look to find suspicious components in the program. But AP was quick to provide an eye opener in its first report, a golden revelation in words coming from Tehran: "Iranian officials point to America’s use of satellites to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar abilities for their security." And that’s the beginning of the depths this problem sinks to.

It doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure out the first priority of the Iranian regime as it launches this rocket: to achieve an intelligence capability that only satellites can provide.  They can not only intercept radio, satellite and e-mail communications but they can — if highly enough developed — also track the movement of military and economic assets.

Though Russia has sold Iran enormously capable anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems to protect its nuclear facilities, they haven’t given Iran the global detection capabilities that satellites do.  Any attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities would be vastly harder given satellite radars and detection systems.

Iran’s apologists will rush to claim that Iran is still years away from competing with the US and Europe in this field. But once one satellite is up and observing and transmitting  the next will bear higher more developed technology and its military function can be morphed to even threaten the single greatest vulnerability the US military and intelligence agencies have: the defenselessness of our satellite systems.

AP reports: "Iran hopes to launch three more satellites by 2010, the government has said." Once a web is installed, the strategic capacity of Tehran in intercepting moves aimed at its nuclear and other installations will increase. By 2010 and beyond Iran’s strategic weapons system is projected to develop further. By 2012, it may have reached the feared benchmark of possessing the nuclear weapons, the delivery systems and the satellite capacity to detect any action against them.

The Iranian regime has a strategic agenda which is clear and pronounced: Expansion in the region. All other developments of military, intelligence and technological nature are at the service of such world view. Had Tehran not been the seat of a radical ideological project with tentacles reaching as far as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza and the rest of the world — the placing of a single communications satellite in space to "check earthquakes" would be a nice news item. But the earthquakes the Iranian regime is looking for are of a different nature: they involve a massive change in the political and identity landscape of a whole region.

By now, the most realistic way to read the event is simple but worrisome: As the new US administration is bracing for a sit down with the Mullahs in an attempt to reduce tensions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pasdaran power is already projected in space, in an attempt to seize influence in the whole region.                               


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